There’s already Oscar buzz surrounding Blunt’s performance, but back in 2017 when Yahoo visited London’s Shepperton Studios to see the film being made, awards glory was far from everyone’s mind.
First and foremost, the cast and crew were focused on reinventing the beloved P.L. Travers character for the 21st century. Here’s how Poppins is being updated from the ground up, or at least the shoes up.
Mary’s unseen legacy
British author Travers published eight Poppins books between 1934 and 1988. The original film, Mary Poppins, adapted the stories from the first four books into one feature-length film, with input from Travers, who demanded script approval (see Saving Mr. Banks for that story), leaving four books still to be adapted.
Director Rob Marshall says Disney tried to adapt the other stories for a sequel in the 1980s but faced pushback from the author, who passed away in 1996 at the age of 96.
“There was so much material,” explained Marshall. “And I know that in the ’80s, for instance, when Jeffrey Katzenberg was at Disney, I know they explored the possibility of doing a sequel, and why wouldn’t you, especially with all of this material? But, as we famously know, P.L. Travers was very protective of the material so it was always very difficult to try and make happen.”
A remake was out of the question, so the logical decision was to turn to the other books for inspiration for a sequel.
“What we found in her books was really a treasure trove of new characters and episodes,” producer Marc Platt told us. “And we realized that we could [not only make] the sequel, our own version and our own story, an original story of Mary Poppins all these years later in a very exciting way, but that we could draw upon the original source.”
The sequel is set during the 1930s London Depression, the era in which the books were originally written. David Magee, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter behind Life of Pi and Finding Neverland, was then brought in to give life to this new Poppins adventure.
There’s something about Mary
The filmmakers insist they only had one name in mind to play the title role: Emily Blunt. Marshall and Platt say they “fell in love” with the 35-year-old Brit on another Disney musical, 2014’s Into the Woods, and they both instinctively knew she would be practically perfect as Poppins.
“There’s quite a list of things you must be able to do to play Mary Poppins,” said Marshall. “You need to be a great actor, but there’s also a humanity in the character.
“Underneath, there has to be a warmth and an accessibility and joy and humor, so it was so important to find an actor who could do those things. But she also needed to sing and dance, which is very rare these days. And I thought it was important that she be British because it’s such an iconic British character.”
“What [Emily] does with the role is what we’re trying to do with the film throughout, which is have a foot in the original source, a nod to it, if you will,” added Platt. “Sort of realize the tropes of the original, but move it forward into a contemporary sense of storytelling and tell the story our way with our personality, our sensibilities.”
Mary’s return is precipitated once again by the Banks children: Jane and Michael. Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw play the siblings as adults, and just like the original, Mary is needed to bring some magic into their lives as they endure turbulent times.
“What you realize is that the magic, the hope, the optimism, the connectivity that Mary Poppins brings as a character to the family, and the world around her, is really what I think people are yearning for in their lives,” said Platt.
“I do remember [the original film] very fondly and took such a great comfort in it as a child,” said Blunt. “That was something that struck me of that person coming in and so capable and so magical, and just sweeping it all up and making it right. I took a lot of comfort in that as a child, so I think we are trying to, obviously, continue that now too with our film.”
Top of the Poppins
With the story and Blunt in place, Disney set about framing Mary in the best way possible with Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell — who previously dressed the star in Young Victoria — hired to update the nanny’s iconic wardrobe.
Powell told us she rewatched the original just once as a refresher, before leaping into all new designs “because the idea wasn’t to go and copy anything specifically, but I think we needed to maintain the essence of the look of Mary Poppins.”
“The first thing to think about, and probably the most daunting task, was what Mary’s arrival outfit is, as it’s the look that we’re going to remember her for,” Powell said. “So, thinking back to the original and what you notice most about the original look is the silhouette because that’s what we all remember seeing is that little silhouette of her coming down with the umbrella.
“The coat was just above the ankle, sort of nipped in at the waist with a hat and an umbrella. So I wanted to do something similar.”
The costumes we’ve seen so far in the trailers are all instantly Poppins, albeit a bit brighter than we saw her wear in the original.
“The color — blue — is stronger than it probably would have been for a real governess, and brighter than the original, which is navy. I didn’t want to do navy because it’s too hard and actually reads on camera as black,” explained Powell.
“The hat is a typical 1930s shape with a brim and it’s not a million miles away from the original. I thought [red] would be a sort of interesting new take on Mary Poppins, a little less rigid.”
Although Poppins has many costume changes, Powell said she has only two pairs of shoes, but like the rest of her costume, they’re exquisitely detailed.
“The shoes are really important because I’m assuming the shoes are going to be the first thing we see when she arrives,” Powell said.
After 54 years, it’s one highly anticipated arrival for Poppins fans.
Mary Poppins Returns opens Dec. 19. Watch the trailer:
Read more from Yahoo Movies UK: